Saturday, June 20, 2009

Buying Fabric Online - Part 1

After my last post on a fabric sale, it seems appropriate to discuss the hows of purchasing fabric online. Now I've received several requests to post about how I manage to buy so much fabric online especially since I do have a relatively good fabric resource a subway train away...

As I started to write this, I realized that there is alot of territory to cover so this topic will be covered in several parts. And second if I may, I would like to stress that if you have a great bricks 'n mortar store near you, please support them! Fabric stores service a narrower market than say the supermarket, and if they are struggling to maintain (especially since we all must eat!), you can imagine how much harder it is for both the bricks 'n mortar and the online stores to survive.

First let me start with several "suggestions" on how to buy fabric online.

1. Know your fabrics

2. Listen to recommendations by others

3. Be adventurous

4. Know the return policy

5. Be diligent

6. Books, books and more books

My first suggestion is the one that brings the most comments. Know your fabrics. I've heard things like how can you purchase online if you can't touch the fabric? How do I know if the color is true? Or the weight?

These are all valid questions. However, in my case I've learned to read the descriptions for key words. Online vendors who take the time to add descriptive words are doing their best to assist you with your purchases. So key words that I look for describe the weight. Words like lightweight, mediumweight or heavy weight. These are true descriptions of the weight of the fabric. The challenge can come when the author of the website's idea of the weight differs from your idea. This has happened to me but it hasn't very often.

Other descriptive words that I look for to characterize fabric are words like drapeability, flowy, stiff hand - words that refer to how the fabric hangs and moves. Think about the garment you want to make when reviewing these descriptive words, make sure that the words accurately states how you want your piece to hang on you.

My last criteria are the phrases that fabric retailers include like...fabric is great for dresses, and blouses or perfect for pants. These phrases are included to give you some guidance on what type of garment will make up well from the fabric you are drooling over! *smile*

Finally, if all else fails and you are still not sure about the weight, the color, or the hand of the fabric, call the online retailer's customer service department and ask. Believe me the times that I have made that phone call, I've been very happy with the responses and information shared with me. But most importantly, I've been thrilled with the fabric that arrived at my home.

Okay, so you say those are great suggestions...but I'm just learning to sew, or I've been sewing for awhile but don't know much about fabrics! And since I don't have a bricks and mortar store near me to touch fabrics and get an idea of what I like...I just don't feel secure about purchasing online.

Here is an idea...start your own fabric file. Buy some index cards. Cut a swatch of the fabrics from your stash or collection...swatches that you know the contents of...and secure them to the index card. Write a brief description of the fabric on the card. I would even write what you either made from the fabric or what you are thinking of making. On the flip side of the index card, I would put a little additional information - where you purchased the fabric and how the fabric is made.

Now determining how the fabric is made could be the more challenging issue. However, there are several books available and there is always google! *smile* Seriously though the more information you put on the index card, the better reference you will have. If you keep all of these cards together, you will surely develop a knowledge of fabrics and fibers that will assist you when purchasing online.

The last thing I want to discuss today is to listen to the recommendations of others. Most of us read several different blogs daily, weekly, etc. I am not the only blogger making fabric recommendations...listen to their experiences. Pay attention to what they share about using particular fabrics. See if their lifestyle is similar to yours and if they are using pieces that would work well with your own lifestyle. And finally, almost all of us have favorite online vendors. Try a small purchase from these vendors. See how their shipping you receive it quickly? Do you like how its packaged? Is there a coupon or additional swatches included? Is the fabric like what you expected? Was the customer service helpful?

I have alot more to say about purchasing fabric online but if you have any questions, please feel free to post them. I think of buying fabric one way. You might have different concerns that I haven't thought of and would like to discuss. So ask away...

I will be working on more items from the yellow wardrobe this weekend. The weatherman says that the sun is finally coming out for more than a 24 hour period this Wednesday in the I want to be ready with some color drenched wardrobe pieces!

As always...more later!


  1. Great tutorial and you hit every important point. I also don't hesitate to call and speak to a real person (during business hours) to ask them to pull the fabric and tell me about it. has a pretty good live chat where they do the same thing and even make sure that fabrics match or coordinate. Knowing your fabrics is very important. So you pretty much know that when you order lightweight rayon/spandex jersey, for example, expect a stretchy, drapey, top weight fabric. Emmaonesock actually gives you the weight of these type knits.

  2. Cool info, chica!!! ;-)

  3. Great post!

    I've been very hesitant about shopping online for fabric. Adrienne tells me all the time, "once you buy online you'll be hooked" my response is always *deep sigh* "i just don't know" lol

    I'm going to take the plunge one day :)

  4. Great information and look forward to part two.

  5. Great advice - especially about listening to others' recommendations. Do you know that I have hated the color yellow my entire life? And that I recently finished a yellow tunic and have bought more yellow fabric? And that there's a piece I'm coveting online? What are you doing to me, Carolyn? ;-)

  6. I got into buying fabric by mail through swatch sources like Fashion Fabrics Club. Having those little bits of fabric to feel and look at really took the fear out of buying and once they went to an online store, I realized that it really was not an different - because their description style was basically the same and I knew I could trust it. Sometimes it takes a little 'trial and error' with a few online merchants to find folks that you feel a level of comfort with; they all seem to be trying very hard to develop that in us. The only other thing I can say is to make sure of how much you are going to need before you order; it's really annoying to have to call back for one more yard.

  7. Thanks for the online shopping info. I think I'll have to read part 2 before I feel confident ordering online. I like ordering for Vogue because I can see/feel the swatches first.

  8. Like Toby I started buying fabric online by swatches I received from fabricfashionclub. When I shop on online I have a pretty good ideal of what I'm getting. And like you said, you really need to know your fabrics. Of course there is nothing like buying fabric in a brick and mortar store; especially if it for something special.When buying online there is still a little bit of the unknown.

  9. I need to touch and feel fabric before i buy it, but you are slowly changing my mind!

    Angie R.

  10. Carolyn you would make a great sewing teacher! Great job!
    If I didn't already know what you were talking about I would probably print off your blog to keep as a reference! I'm sure that there are a lot of peope that just went.... WoW!
    If you decide to write a book... I think that all your details would be a winner!

  11. Great post and interesting advice ... but touch, have in hand, put on me close to my face, search for coordinating with a swatch in hand... is the most important and funnyest part of my fabric search and an important part of my sewing: a special moment when my idea become clear...
    This can't be done online for the most part... comming back home with 3 or 4 pack in hands (imagine someone far away from a pictures parisian and closer to a donkey and you've got the pict ;-) is the worst part but... (yes I should by online, yes, I should go with a suitcase, just in case of... but in fact I never do this... and the donkey go back home with a lot of dream, to much plan and idea in the head and to much fabric in plastic bag to ;-)

  12. Great post, Carolyn. I would add that sometimes you just need to feel the fear and do it anyway. Start small and build your confidence level.

    There is also a book series out there about learning fabrics. It even comes with swatches. Dang if I can remember the titles, but I happen to have the one for cotton. Not inexpensive, but a great resource.

  13. Great post, Carolyn..Thanks for sharing....

  14. Great advice, I do buy fabric from an online store but they send swatches each season to make it easy.

  15. Thank you for this post. You have given some interesting hints for purchasing online. Which I am shy to do. Right now I've found two brick'n mortar stores in my neighbourhood, and I enjoy seeing and touching the fabrics before buying. But who knows how long they'll be there? Anyway, I plan a trip to one next Wednesday, and I plan to be really supportive to their business :-)

  16. I order a lot of fabric online, but I tend to buy just things I am interested in and not for particular projects, so trying to match fabrics using the images on the screen isn't much of an issue for me.

    One rule I do use when buying fabrics online is the same one I use when purchasing on ebay or on craigslist: "Never spend more than you can afford to lose."

    As for being hesitant to buy fabrics because I don't know the exact color, or the drape, or the hand...I have no problems buying actual clothing online lacking that exact information, so I don't really see that as a handicap.

    If worst comes to worst, I'll either return it, or it will become muslin fabric.

  17. Great topic. I love buying fabric online and opening up the bags and boxes when I get home from work. The color yellow- was added to the stash because I needed it for church and your inspiration. Listening to recommendations is a great thing.

  18. Thanks for the post. I am always a little worried about online shopping, because it is hard for me to imagine how the fabric will be which only the written description. But I love online stores, as you are just one click away from any of them and don't have to drive around to different fabric stores. I really like the idea with the swatch index cards. My question is: What do you experience with shipping cost? Most online stores are cheaper than the "physical" ones, but does the shipping often times balance that out?

  19. There used to be a locally owned fabric store and a Hancock fabric in addition to the "craft store" you got that bordered yellow fabric from here; we're down to the "craft store". It's so sad. I've not bought much fabric online, but some day I'll be brave...

  20. My dh and I are both wearing yellow tops this afternoon.
    I can understand how you'd buy so much fabric on line instead of in NYC. After all you work in the city and fabric shopping can take hours so not much time after work or that much time at lunch. Buying on line is so much easier! Some of your points are exactly how I shop on line. I also like pictures that show the drape of a fabric. I read those descriptions very carefully too. Right off the bat you know what this fabric is suitable for.

  21. Terrific advice, Carolyn!'s comforting to buy fabric (or interfacing ~wink~) online from vendors who actually know how to sew, and who have lots of experience behind them.

    I answer several emails and calls every day consulting with customers about what interfacing to use with their fabrics and why...and often also talk about construction techniques with them too. It's one of the most enjoyable parts of the best "job" I've ever had! :)

    Vintage shirt progress continues...

  22. San Antonio SueJune 22, 2009 10:06 AM

    At your recommendation I have ordered from Fabric Mart, and I joined their swatch club for $29 per year with a $15 coupon. With the swatches and description, it's a snap! And their prices are fabulous -- $8 per yard for silk and $5 for cotton; can't complain.

  23. Great post, and I think you hit all the important points. I love online shopping, but it takes time to develop a sense of a particular vendor and what you can expect. Still, if there is no local fabric source, the internet is a great resource.

    I am just looking forward to being able to get into NYC again.

  24. Thanks so much for this information! It's been so incredibly helpful!!

    I'm just curious, I know that you are an experienced sewer, do you draft your own patterns or do you have some favorite ones you use?

  25. Great post! I agree with most all of the above comments. Staying tuned for Part 2, 3 and 4.

  26. I am just learning to sew and have been wondering how to get good deals on fabric. So far I have only been to local fabric stores so that I can really understand what each type of material look and feels like. I do like your advice to know and understand each fabric before making a purchase online.


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